Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News                                Port Angeles’ Lauren Lunt, right, and Kingston’s Emma Eliason compete for the ball during their Feb. 2 game at Port Angeles High School.

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News Port Angeles’ Lauren Lunt, right, and Kingston’s Emma Eliason compete for the ball during their Feb. 2 game at Port Angeles High School.

PREP BASKETBALL: District play a stacked deck in West Central playoffs

PORT ANGELES — Another year, another slate of West Central District Class 2A basketball tournament games played in the shadow of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

That’s a relatively short jaunt for South Puget Sound League squads, and even for Kitsap County squads like Olympic and North Kitsap.

But boys and girls teams from Port Angeles and Sequim face roundtrip travel distances ranging between 170 and 200-plus miles this week for district basketball games at Wilson High School in Tacoma.

With 7:45 p.m. start times for the Roughriders boys game against White River on Wednesday night and the Sequim Wolves girls against Lindbergh tonight, those squads will return home after midnight with school starting just a few hours later.

“A 7:45 p.m. game takes two hours, so they’ll get out of there at 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m., stop for food somewhere, and then have roughly two to two and a half hours travel home from the Narrows Bridge,” Port Angeles Athletic Director Dwayne Johnson said.

“That could put them home between 12:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.”

Yes, long trips are part of the price paid for living away from the big city. And with 16 of 23 2A district schools serving as members of the South Puget Sound League, it makes sense that a majority of district games be played at South Sound gyms.

But all district games? And every season?

By holding district games at the same Tacoma-area sites each year, an unfair and unsporting burden is placed on players, coaches, area referees and even fans. And it doesn’t make financial sense for the West Central District and its member schools.

Last season saw deserving Olympic League 2A Division teams host the first round of district play against lower-seeded foes. That included the Olympic League champion Port Angeles girls, which hosted a first-round district game against Steilacoom.

It was a big moneymaker for the West Central District, according to Johnson.

“Our last district home game last year, the game’s gate was over $2,500,” Johnson said.

“Our fan base here is just outstanding and we filled up the gym.”

But a change was made this season to have all district games held on supposedly neutral sites.

“For the past two years certain schools have been able to host first-round district games at their home site, but that is not the decision that was made this season by the West Central District Basketball Committee,” Johnson said.

“Everybody gets a neutral-site game is the direction that has been taken.

“The dialogue that has taken place at the executive board level, is the closer we can get to hosting games near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is what has been approved by the executive board as far as playoff sites.

“I will say that [Sequim Athletic Director] Dave Ditlefsen and myself have championed an attempt to get home games the past two years because of our fan base and how they support our teams.”

Johnson said the cost of transportation for a trip to Tacoma ranges between $800 and $1,000, compared with $400 to $500 for bus travel to a Kitsap County school such as North Kitsap or Olympic.

Those are the two schools that could have hosted first-round district games this year after earning the top two Olympic League seeds in both the boys and girls district playoffs. But the Vikings and Trojans boys and girls will travel to Foss High School to play in front of a more limited audience than if they were able to host home games.

“Our league will not get any revenue share from the West Central District this year because we are not hosting any games,” Johnson said.

Olympic League teams getting a shot at hosting more district games in the future remains a possibility.

“Continued conversations are taking place to revisit this West Central District 2A basketball agreement,” Johnson said.

And that could mean more than first-round contests.

“If that athletic director is willing to raise his/her hand and host games,” Johnson said.

Johnson said his district would be in favor of hosting more district games.

“Absolutely, we would look forward to that,” Johnson said.

“We have a talented event staff that is prepared to host games.And the Port Angeles School District puts their best foot forward to support West Central District schools and activities.”

Indeed, as Johnson and the Port Angeles event staff will host Class 1B Tri-District basketball games for the Clallam Bay girls on Tuesday and for the Neah Bay boys and girls on Thursday, Feb. 16.

Johnson said there is a push-pull relationship between schools and districts that spreads hosting responsibilities for other sports, such as wrestling.

“We are going up to Blaine this year for regionals, but Port Angeles will host wrestling regionals next year,” Johnson said.

Share and share alike, right?

That type of equitable balance is something that Olympic League hoops teams can hope for.

Seeding another issue

The 16-team West Central District playoffs follow a pretty traditional format. The top four seeds earn first-round byes. The remaining 12 teams are seeded to have the No. 7 seed play the No. 10 and the No. 6 play the No. 11, just like an NCAA bracket in March Madness.

But the seeding changes for the No. 5 seed which must face the No. 9 team, while the No. 12 team plays the No. 8.

This year, this hurts the Port Angeles girls (the No. 9 seed) which must play No. 5 Eatonville while helping Sequim (No. 12) and the Roughrider boys (No. 12) gain matchups against the No. 8 seed Lindbergh Eagles and White River Hornets, respectively.

Why doesn’t the No. 5 face the No. 12 and the No. 8 play the No. 9?

“It leans on the power index and the number of schools in each league,” Johnson explained.

The South Puget Sound League has 16 teams, while the Olympic League only has seven 2A schools.

“We have to lean on something that is fair, so we went to a power ranking and that is why it is the way it is,” Johnson said.

“Our primary motivation is putting our kids into a position to play the game and decide it on the court/field.”

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Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]

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